Building B2B Relationships, Thoughtfully
I’m going to share a sales technique that has worked really well for me in generating business and also feels good. Sounds like an oxymoron? It’s not.
At the end of the day, effective sales are about developing relationships. Creating new relationships usually feels good. Humans typically enjoy connecting with other humans (unless it’s a snowy February day in NYC). Our potential clients don’t have to be just like us, and we don’t have to try to be their new best friend. But usually there is something to connect over.
With sales and marketing, the goal is to connect a person or company with a product or service. Marketing isn’t about selling something to someone who doesn’t want it; it’s about fulfilling a need (or creating a need). So when we connect with people through business interactions, we are seeking to understand what they need, and how we can fulfill it.
In order to meet needs, we must have some background on our potential client. The more we know about them, the easier it will be to connect and to suggest a solution (hopefully that solution is them buying our product!). A connective sales process requires some initial groundwork.
If you read my article on asking permission and not forgiveness, there are some parallels here. You don’t want to call someone up, blabbing about how great your product is and why everyone wants it and they should too. In order to really connect, you must do research and preparation before approaching a potential client. Preparation not only shows care and intelligence, but that you can and maybe even have already thought of some creative solutions for them.
Here are nine steps that will tell you how to connect with a potential client.
1. PICK A TARGET MARKET
First, find an audience. Figure out where you are going to sell and to whom you are going to sell. If you’re selling something specific, like rubber pieces that go on the soles of high heels, you probably know right where to go: shoe companies. But if your product seeks to reach a broader audience (say, eco-friendly light fixtures), you can pick a target market and start there. You may choose multiple markets, but make sure you are consciously aware of what those markets are.
Second, do your market research. Find out everything you can about your chosen market. How old or new is the industry? Who are the main players? Who are your competitors (who sell the same or similar products) who sell there? What are the opportunities and challenges that this market faces? Do research on the place as well as the industry. Are you looking locally, nationally, internationally? Find out about who is operating (potential customers and competitors in those local, national, or global markets). Learn as much as you can.
I don’t recommend purchasing expensive market reports. You can do most of this research with the internet, and the purpose is really to get a feel for what is happening, not to know exact sales and revenue for every player in the industry.
Lastly I make a SWOT. It helps solidify and clarify the research you’ve compiled, and can lead you to your next step.
3. MAKE A LIST
Next, create a list of potential clients that you will reach out to. This list should continue to expand over time, but you can start it with 10-20 companies, depending on how much time and energy you have to devote to sales. I really like to use spreadsheets to keep things organized. If you are looking at several different industries, you can make one spreadsheet with multiple pages, one for each industry.
Now you need to do more research on each company you have found. Research their company history, brand, number of locations, mission/vision/values, any issues they have faced or are facing, and growth potential (because we want to grow with our clients). Take notes on anything that feels relevant. You will use this in your pitch.
Find the relevant contact for each company you’re seeking to connect with. If you are a healthy snack company who wants to focus on corporate offices, find the HR director. If you offer brand services, find their Director of Brand Marketing or Marketing Director. You can always try the COO and CEO. Add a contact column in your spreadsheet for their names and emails. You will never get anywhere sending an email to info@. Utilize email-finder tools, such as Hunter.io, or Rocket Reach to make sure you have the right contact. You can look for phone numbers and cold-call if you really want to waste a few hours of your short life.
5. SET A GOAL + MAKE A PLAN
Setting goals and making plans is a crucial step in the long-term B2B sales game. Gotta quote our man Abraham Lincoln here: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Set clear goals and expectations. Be specific about the number of clients that you want, and the amount of new revenue you want to generate. Create daily, weekly, monthly, and even annual goals. Decide how many companies you want to reach out to for each of these intervals. Set a confident intention to generate new business.
If you are working for yourself or teaching employees how to sell, make sure you take this step. Often we rush in to do the work without setting an intention. By being hasty, we can easily burn out and lose track of our progress and motivation. When we set goals and make plans, we set the stage for success. We sharpen our ax. Doing something with intentionality and purpose will lead to better business and create a rhythm for your sales efforts.
6. MARKETING MATERIALS
Gather any visual marketing materials (pitch deck, 1-pager, video) so your potential client can have a direct experience of what you offer. Subtly tweak your materials to address your target audience. If possible, work with your marketing team and/or designer to create visual stories for a personalized approach. If you don’t have materials, make some. Canva is a great place to start, with hundreds of free and easily adjustable templates made by legit designers.
7. REACH OUT
With your predetermined timeline in mind, craft a customized email to each contact on your list. Make sure your email is clear, professional, and includes some of what you have learned about their organization. Some of the content can be the same, but be clear to tweak your standard email to fit your audience. Be clear in stating how you think you could meet their needs. Try your best to be connective in your email. Lead them to your website and any press. Attach your visuals. Introduce them to your story in a way that will make sense to them.
When writing your email, set the intention to connect, and go forth with an open mind. Suggest a phone call to share ideas. If they accept, follow-up immediately with a calendar invite.
Finally, you’ve got them on the phone! Or that’s the goal, anyway. Utilize a consultative approach in communication. Through conversation and questions, try to find out what the potential client is seeking to do and how you can help. Don’t just tell them about your product and why it is good. Be curious. Listen to them, deeply. Strategize and dream up some ideas. Creative strategy is all about opening up to what’s possible. If coming up with ideas on the spot sounds scary, consider exploring your creativity through art classes, books/articles, and ted talks.
Seek to build a relationship. Even if your contact doesn’t purchase your product on the spot, there may be potential to work together down the road. I always approach my calls with curiosity. I try to cultivate a willingness to learn about another human and their goals.
If you are nearby or lucky enough to get an in person meeting, do the same as the above. Really listen to your potential client, and ask a lot of questions (and listen to the answers). If they are showing you a space or a problem, observe everything. See how you and your product can fit in. If you have an idea for them, share it, even if it is unrelated to your product. If you know someone else who could help them out, recommend them. The goal is not to land a singular sale, but to build a network.
Take notes on everything that feels important and add them to your spreadsheet; you'll use them in your...
9. FOLLOW UP
Part of your plan should include follow-ups. After you speak with someone, email them after the call with any extra information, visuals, or suggestions. If you are submitting a proposal, give them a clear timeframe. Air on the side of more communication. You don’t want them to forget you.
If there were no further action steps, as in they don’t want to buy what you are selling, file their contact info away for a later date. If you develop new products or ways of selling them, reach back out again with that story. Change your angle to see if you can maybe meet their needs in the future. And if you’ve truly connected, you may be able to help each other down the line.
After all, helping one another brings us together, to a more connective world.